Raven's Brew Coffee takes flight

Tumwater coffee roaster growing in popularity

October 25, 2006 

TUMWATER - Though Raven's Brew Coffee has been serving the Alaskan coffee market since 1992, it has only recently begun to spread its wings in South Sound.

The specialty coffee roaster was formed and continues to be based in Ketchikan, Alaska.

But once the company started to grow, the logistics of selling coffee to a wider market from an island in southeast Alaska became a problem, according to co-owner Michael Beech.

As a result, the company opened a coffee roaster in Tumwater at the Mottman Industrial Park five years ago.

Still, it has only recently started to market its product in South Sound. Today, Raven's Brew can be found at the Bayview and Ralph's Thriftway stores and Swaney Chevron.

"We've got a great product and decided to get more involved," General Manager Paul Schuster said.

Since 1992, the company has grown to 15 employees, roasts 300,000 pounds of coffee a year and has plans to build a third roasting facility in Anchorage this year.

The two roasters up north will serve the Alaska market, while the Tumwater roaster serves the rest of the country, Beech said.

Raven's Brew has built its brand on coffee beans that are imported from Latin America, Indonesia and Africa, including "natural" or unwashed beans from these countries.

"Most roasters deal in washed (beans)," Beech said. "It's coffee's version of homogenization."

The company also has established itself with a distinctive line of packaging that has been designed by Beech's wife, Lezli Morgan, and Ray Troll, an Alaskan artist who incorporates salmon culture into his art, such as the popular T-shirt, "Spawn till you die."

The artistic approach to the company's packaging, plus Beech's childhood interest in espresso and beatniks, has produced Raven's Brew Coffee brands such as Deadman's Reach, Dharma Beans and Resurrection Blend.

"People wake up thinking about nothing else," Beech said about coffee drinkers. "We acknowledge it as a drug, or a religious ascension, and help them (customers) identify with it as such."

Gary Swaney, co-owner of a not-so-typical Chevron station on Yelm Highway in Olympia, stocks the Raven's product weekly because he finds it as distinctive as his business.

"Raven's Brew fits because we're not really known for following the lead," he said. "We like to make our own path."

Besides pumping gasoline, Swaney Chevron carries 800 kinds of wine, 350 kinds of beer and 175 hot sauces, he said.

It's also one of the best-selling coffees at the Bayview Thriftway, according to Kevin Stormans, co-owner of Stormans Inc., the company that operates two Thriftway stores in Olympia.

Though Raven's has recently grown quickly, Schuster said he has no interest in becoming so large that he loses touch with his employees or products.

Raven's Brew Coffee

• Formed: 1992

• Business: Specialty coffee manufacturer

• Headquarters: Ketchikan, Alaska, with locations in Tumwater and soon in Anchorage

• Number of owners: Three, including founder Michael Beech

• Number of employees:15

• 2005 sales: Not disclosed, though the company is investing $250,000 in a new roaster

• Production capacity: 300,000 pounds of coffee annually

• Best-selling coffee: Deadman's Reach

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